Is your home overheating in London? Here’s the reason why…

Have you spent this summer struggling to sleep in the heat, unable to choose between the security and noise issues that come with opening your windows at night, or closing them and lying in bed sweating?

You’re not alone.

Overheating apartments in London suffering from poor building design

We often hear about how dangerous cold weather is for those suffering from fuel poverty in winter, but overheating in summer kills as many if not more people in the hottest climes, and shouldn’t be disregarded as a vital issue in future building design.

Potentially thousands of new build apartments and houses are affected by serious overheating during the summer months, particularly those which face south, with only a single facade of opening windows and at high level (so under the sun all day).

This is because there are are a number of serious errors in the heart of the overheating analysis provided by the architects and energy consultants during the planning stages of a new build development that are seriously underestimating the risk of overheating.

Why is my home so hot and airless in summer?

If you live in a new build flat in London, or indeed any UK city, chances are you’ve been finding it unbearably hot to live indoors once summer starts. In the worst case scenarios, I’ve visited flats with indoor temperatures at 30 Deg C in January.

 

Generally, we start feeling discomfort above 25 Deg C, and this is the temperature that the Passivhaus Planning Package (PHPP) will alert the building designer to a serious risk of overheating. If the modelling of the property indicates the home will be above 25 Deg C for more than a few weeks of the year, the building will fail and need to be re-designed.

There are four main ways to cool a building, in order of low to high energy usage:

External shading

Trees, parasols, balconies, deep window reveals, external blinds or shutters – if you can keep the sun’s rays from hitting the glazing, you’ll stop the most intense heat from entering the home. Nearly all modern homes are built with very high levels of insulation, which compounds the overheating problem – once the heat is in, the insulation (great in winter) keeps it in all day and into the night.

Passive ventilation

Opening windows, preferably at both ends of the house to allow air to pass through and blow/purge away the day’s heat. The problem with this solution is that it doesn’t work on calm, windless days, and orientation, security and noise issues can make it impossible to open windows comfortably in practice.

A rooflight can be a source of heat from solar gain, but can also help ventilate a home

Active ventilation

An MVHR system can work in helping with overheating by removing stale, humid, warm air from inside the home and exhausting it straight outside via the summer bypass mode. In the evenings and at night it will then bring in cool air from outside, bringing the temperature down. An MVHR also solves the problem of guaranteeing ventilation and air movement even on noisy, windless nights (as the windows can be locked tight).

In some cases, an MVHR can be equipped with a cooling chiller coil if the home has a reversible heat pump already – but this is probably only appropriate for those building a new home, as it’s difficult to retrofit.

Active cooling

The nuclear option for cooling a home in the UK is to install air-conditioning, but this should be a last resort for only the most severe overheating risks. Normally we only see it in rooms with lots of south-facing glazing or in loft spaces. Both of these situations have solutions to mitigating overheating, but sometimes it’s impossible to put in external shading – eg, if you’re apartment is on the 20th floor, or in a conservation area.

If air conditioning is the only solution, remember that AC systems by their nature tend to be noisy, very expensive to run and not particularly comfortable or healthy for long periods. Long term, this type of unit is a really inefficient way to cool a home, so long term solutions such as external shading should still be pursued.

Luckily though, air conditioning will be useful for about six weeks of the year in the UK in the average home – we really don’t have that hot a summer for that long a time. But when you can’t sleep because it’s too hot, any cooling will feel heaven-sent.

The sun is not the only issue – dealing with internal heat gains

Unlagged hot water pipes, audio-visual equipment and computers, tumble dryers, washing machines and structural pieces such as steel beams can all contribute to overheating. If you’ve ever been in the corridor of a new build apartment building you’ll probably have felt how insanely hot it is. That’s because of the hot water in the secondary circulation pipes, which sits there so as to provide instantaneous hot water to each flat, but unfortunately leaks out this heat into the corridors – all year round.

What’s specifically making new build apartments overheat?

A new build flat is at the highest risk for overheating because it tends to struggle to achieve any or all of the above mitigating factors.

Overheating glass building in London will suffer greatly from overheating flats

Flats can be at high level (which means there are no buildings or trees to overshadow them), they can have only a single facade of openable windows (which means crossflow ventilation isn’t possible), and they can be too small internally for air-conditioning or good quality ventilation systems.

This is being borne out in the experience of urban dwellers living in high-rise homes across cities in the UK. On some days these flats are unbearably, and even dangerously, hot.

Why isn’t the planning and design stage picking up the overheating risk?

I reviewed the overheating analysis survey of a proposed new build development scheduled for construction in 2020. What I noticed is that they had chosen the easiest apartments on the south-facing orientation to pass the overheating analysis model. They were at low level and therefore potentially shaded by other buildings (not shown in the model), but they were above ground level so there’s no security risks with leaving the windows open. That means the overheating analysis for the block was taken by the best-performing units, rather than the worst. And that’s not fair.

What’s worse, the overheating analysis makes this assumption about the behaviour of occupants:

“Windows are modelled as open when both internal dry bulb temperature exceeds 22 Deg C and the room is occupied.”

The reason that line is significant is because opening the windows fully is an easy way to limit or remove an overheating risk in a theoretical design model. But I don’t think that in reality people are really opening the windows fully as soon as the temperature hits 22 Deg C – that’s a cool temperature for anyone. And plus, it’s dangerous to assume that windows can be opened, with the security and noise issues it carries.

What’s the solution for overheating in UK homes?

For the homes yet to be built, we need firmer guidance on which apartments in a block or homes in a development are being tested. It should be insisted that the homes most at risk from overheating are analysed, and there should be rules on how this is assessed and monitored.

For homes that are already built, possible overheating solutions include placing solar film on the windows, designing with less windows generally (and I personally hate floor-to-ceiling windows), fitting external shading (where possible), fine tuning or boosting the ventilation system or adding in a small air-to-air heat pump to provide limited cooling. All of these options have drawbacks, which is why good design is so important in the first place.

If you are affected by overheating, consider purchasing some cheap humidity/temperature data loggers. You can put these in a few areas around the home and they’ll record the temperature every 15 minutes throughout the seasons, and you can download the data and see temperature/humidity over the year. This way you can build evidence of sustained overheating problems over the year – even in winter.

Please leave a comment if you’re affected by summer overheating in your home, or any other building design issue you’d like to discuss.

Patrick

24 Comments

  1. I’ve recently moved into a new build flat and I’m struggling with this – it’s been 14 degrees outside today but 44 degrees inside my flat.

    Not sure where I stand with building regulations and whether there’s any onus on the builder to help rectify it?

    • Hi Daisy,

      That is excessively high, and very dangerous for long term occupancy. It sounds like you may have some of the issues I mention in my article.

      Please can you send me a direct email with more information to Patrick [@] heatspaceandlight.com and I’ll endeavour to help you. If you have plans or drawings, that would be helpful, as would any information about the heating, hot water and ventilation systems.

      Best wishes,

      Patrick

  2. Hi, we moved into a new build home last year which has a large amount of south facing glass. When the sun is out we get temperatures of up to 40 degrees inside when it is much cooler outside and heat cannot escape.
    The developers are saying they carried out mitigation tests such as SAP test & the results were medium suggestion air cooling is recommended but not compulsory. Obviously what we experience over the months from April to September is unbearable and we wonder where we stand with this.

    Any help or advice would be hugely appreciated

    • Hi Reuben,

      If you purchased a year ago you may still be under the builder’s warranty, or the ten year NHBC warranty (or similar), which might give you some bargaining power. Purchasing some cheap humidity/temperature data loggers will also help. You can put these in a few areas around the home and they’ll record the temperature every 15 minutes for years, and you can download the data and see temperature/humidity over the year. This way you can build evidence of sustained overheating problems.

      All new homes will have had an overheating assessment, but they are fundamentally flawed and understate the overheating risk significantly – which leads to the problems you are suffering. SAP is a compliance tool for energy efficiency, not a design tool for overheating.

      Stay persistent with the builder to conduct remedial action (external shading, solar film, increased ventilation, or even AC).

      A home has failed if it is too uncomfortable to live in for half of the year. Architects and building developers need to understand that too much south-facing glazing in a home is causing massive overheating problems for thousands of homes across the country, and these professional services have seemingly no idea that what they are designing and building is completely inappropriate.

      Please email me with more details and I’ll see if I can help with more guidance/strategy: Patrick [@] heatspaceandlight.com.

      Best wishes,

      Patrick

  3. Hi,
    I have also been struggling with this and I don’t know where to turn. The housing developer has refused to engage with me to assess let alone address the problem- they do not care. My flat has reached 47.4 degrees recently, the bedroom temperature rarely drops below 29 degrees on warm nights, often remains in the 30’s throughout the night. It is so oppressive and impacts every aspect of my daily life, I dread using the oven or hob, or having to blow dry my hair, and I’m lucky if I get a few hours sleep.
    Any advice on how to take this forward and get something done would be so appreciated.

    • Hi Vicki,

      I’m sorry to hear of your issues, it’s maddening that the housing developer is not helping you. When was your home built? If it is still under the builder’s warranty then significant overheating is something they must remedy to your satisfaction. If not there may still be some redress – please can you email me at patrick [@] heatspaceandlight.com with more details and we’ll discuss.

      Best wishes,

      Patrick

  4. A ground floor flat in a New Barkley home dev. Uncomfortably hot all year round, especially in summer.

    Only have doors to patio, no window that opens, so unable to leave open as is a security risk. Also have a cat who will get out.

    Finally getting a rep. for Berkley to visit tomorrow – we’ll see what they will/can do.

    • Hi Greg,

      Yes, one of the errors when noise / overheating assessments are calculated at design stage is how realistic it is for occupants to open their windows to purge the warm air from their home. Security, pets and a general feeling of not wanting strangers to look inside are not considered when deciding what to set a “typical” window-opening strategy in summer – sometimes the overheating design will assume windows are open fully for 18 hours a day, which isn’t normal, comfortable or safe.

      Let me know how the visit goes, and whether they offer any solutions.

      Best wishes,

      Patrick

  5. Hi,
    We’ve been in this new build 2 bed flat for 3 years and have always just put up with the heat. But I’m due to give birth in June so it got us thinking about whether we can do anything because it’s so bad for the baby to be that hot. Currently in March with heating on, the flat is just sitting at 24 degrees. So it’s only going to get worse and quite often just sits at 30 in the summer in the living room with all the windows. We have an MVHR system, but it really doesn’t seem to do much. Our neighbours don’t have the same problem, there’s sits at 20 degrees, but then they don’t have the massive corner windows we do.
    I’m wondering whether it’s just an issue of design, and having lots of windows and being airtight. Or whether there is a problem with one of the systems like the MVHR? We can’t have the windows open when it hits 22 because of the sound, we both work from home at the moment and we live on a main road.
    It’s a nightmare.
    Have you got a suggestions on whether this sounds like a design problem or a fixable issue?

    • Hi Charlotte,

      I’ll reply here so other visitors can see, but I’m also going to email you directly at patrick[@]heatspaceandlight.com so we can discuss in more detail.

      Sounds like both a design issue, with hopefully a fixable aspect.

      It sounds like the glazing is causing a significant amount of solar gain, which is then trapped by the fact that you can’t get cross-flow ventilation because the flat windows are only one facade and/or the road is too noisy to leave windows open.

      It also sounds like the MVHR isn’t working properly. I would never “blame” the MVHR for overheating, because that’s not its job, but it can help cooling a little by drawing in cold outdoor air air as part of its automatic “summer bypass” mode. It doesn’t sound like it’s doing that either.

      With it being a recently built new build, is there any opportunity to lean on the builder under the warranty? During construction design they may have produced an overheating risk assessment as part of SAP.

      In terms of fixing, can you apply external shading to the windows? Or a darker film? Could you at worst take out a glass panel and insert an acoustic ventilated panel instead? If you can keep sun off the windows, it will cool the home down.

      Best wishes,

      Patrick

  6. Hi Patrick,
    I’m in a similar boat to Charlotte: 2 bed new build, top floor, huge south west facing glass windows, no awnings/shade, no cross ventilation, close to train tracks making noise an issue with open windows and an MVHR that will stop summer bypass when outside temps drop below 25C. It never drops below 22C even if there’s snow mounting up on the balcony. 30C plus in the summer. I’m no longer within the 2 year ‘snagging’ period but still under 10 year NHBC. Recently looked into a Zehnder ComfoAir but their sales person apparently didn’t want my business. I’m curious what options I would have to get Barratt’s help to remediate the problem here, were they required to do an overheating assessment as part of planning?
    Kind regards,
    Jess

    • Hi Jessica,
      What is the area of the home in square metres? This can impact on the suitability of certain MVHR units.
      An overheating analysis would have been done of the building, and an indication of risk level noted in the SAP design. There are different overheating assessment tools to do this. I would start recording internal temperatures with a datalogger in order to build evidence throughout the year.
      I’ll also send you an email to discuss in more detail.
      Best wishes,
      Patrick

  7. As horrible as this issue is, it makes me happy that at least someone out there is talking about this. Some friends and family roll their eyes and tell me to stop moaning when I mention it because, y’know, we all get a bit hot during summer.

    I have come to dread summer in this flat even though we’re NW facing and only get direct sun as it’s setting! It rarely goes below 30 in the summer and I can’t tell you how frightening it is seeing 40 degrees on a baby monitor.

    We ended up getting a portable air con for the baby’s room because we were so scared, which actually works really well. However, we don’t want it on all night so set it to a timer. It’s hilariously tragic watching the temperature go back to 30+ within a minute. I don’t even understand how that’s possible at night. I am so desperate to move and I’m hoping that we can soon now that the cladding is fixed (that’s a whole other story).

    My one question is, if we were to track the temperature and humidity over the year and brought the results to our housing association, would they be obliged to do anything?

    • Hi Kieran,

      I’m sorry to hear of your issues, and I’m trying to raise this issue more widely as too many people in the UK are suffering.

      To let you know, there is a new Building Regulations’ document (Approved Document O/X) that all new buildings will be assessed by going forward. It won’t help your current position but it may help future occupants in the UK.

      For now, I don’t think it can harm by keeping a record and issuing it to the Housing Association – they should be guided, whether ethically or in legislation, to help their occupants. This is particularly the case when there may be a risk to health, which overheating can definitely cause.

      Best of luck.

      Patrick

  8. Hi there,

    I know this article was posted a few years ago but I think it’s more relevant than ever. I recently moved into a modern build flat in Tooting with my partner in February of this year. We quickly noticed how uncomfortably hot the flat was even in the spring. The flat consistently sits at 25 degrees and never drops below that. Since we have reached summer months the flat is sitting constantly above 30 degrees and during this heatwave I am working from home in temperatures above 34/35. Our flat has large south facing double glazed windows, windows that only open an inch for safety purposes, and severe lack of ventilation for hot air to escape. These the major drivers discussed in your article.

    We have tried discussing this with the property manager and landlord and are met with stiff refusal to carry out any works, with claims that the flat passed safety checks when built and that ‘previous tenants hadn’t complained about this issue’.

    I honestly have no idea what to do. I cannot believe that it is legally acceptable for flats to be built and lived in in these conditions having passed technical assessments. I am stuck in a rental for 2 years and even the council suggest they cannot intervene if the flat is proven to have ‘openable windows’ which I am amazed at.

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks,
    Joe

    • Hi Joe,

      Unfortunately this is an ongoing issue, although this year Approved Document O was released which includes design and form regulations specifically to design out overheating. Time will tell whether it’s a tick-box exercise.

      I think a few points may help:

      1) Speak to other neighbours and form an “overheating committee” to complain as one
      2) Buy some cheap temperature loggers and start recording the temperatures in rooms over a prolonged period.
      3) Look at sources of heat in the home – are any hot water pipes unlagged? Can the MVHR ventilation be turned up? Is it running well?
      4) Can external shading be added? If you can stop sunlight hitting the windows this may help, but permission will be required
      5) A fan placed in front of an open window can help purge the air

      I can’t be more helpful as overheating issues are problems of structure and form that were designed into the original building.

      Best wishes,

      Patrick

  9. Thanks for the interesting article.

    We live in a 2015 build in South London. Our flat is west facing and fully glazed on only one side.
    The flat sits at 30 – 35 C during summer. (I’ll be interested to see what it’ll be during the predicted 40 C in the next few days?)
    30 – 35 is with all the windows and balcony doors open, with sun shades on the balcony and the fan system active.
    The windows open isn’t ideal, as the development is still under construction, from 8am to 6pm, and the latest phase is physically 40 feet across the road from us.
    It’s not much better at night, as we are directly above the front doors, where people seem to like a loud chat at 1am! Not mention joy riders, parties, and drunks passing by.
    We also have the issue you mention, where the communal halls are painfully hot. Hot to the point of feeling dizzy and instantly beading sweat all over, soon as step into it.

    The real worry is that we have a 2 year old, who is forced to spend her entire time in nothing but a nappy, still with hair glued to her head with sweat. We spend a lot of time and effort just keeping her hydrated!
    We used to live in a 1 bed on the 5th floor, in an East facing flat, which was also very hot, but we moved to a 2 bed 1st floor and expected the lower floor, west facing flat to be generally cooler. Especially as we have the foyer below most of our flat, rather than another property. Sadly it’s somehow hotter!
    The property is shared ownership, so I have no idea where we stand on getting the issue addressed?
    Thanks,
    Jay

    • Hi Jay,

      Sorry to hear about your issues. It sounds as if it’s a mix of solar gain, thermal bridges within the building fabric heating up (eg, steel beams within walls/ceilings/supporting balconies getting hot and conducting that heat indoors) and “wild” heat gains from communal hot water pipes that may not be lagged, plus the standard issues with apartments (difficulty to purge air / lack of cross-flow ventilation, etc).

      My advice would be to buy a few temperature loggers that record the temp every 10 mins and set them up in different rooms. You can record data to a laptop and then contact anyone who has the authority to help – councillors, local MP, housing association, builders, maintenance people). If you can band a few other residents together and submit as one it may also help.

      In terms of practical cooling advice, I think I’ve covered a lot of the active cooling options in the article and comments.

      All advice given informally.

      Best wishes,

      Patrick

  10. Wow, this is a brilliant article, thank you for writing it. I tick a lot of the boxes you mentioned. South facing, floor and ceiling windows, room temperature above 30 Deg , limited cross ventilation. It’s a 2 year old apartment but looks like there is little comeback I have due to the ongoing industry clarification needed around overheating in new builds. If there is any further guidance since your post, I’d love to contact you to discuss more.

    • Hi Gavin,

      Sorry to hear of your issues.

      There is now Approved Document O of the Building Regulations which has much tighter guidance on mitigating overheating through design. It’s a good start for homes being built today as it should identify the risk points you’ve observed in your own home, but it doesn’t help those living in finished homes like yourself.

      It’s worth a read if you enjoy that sort of thing, and would help you with the language and terminology if you’re planning to communicate with the builders/council/landlord about the issues you’re facing.

      Best wishes,

      Patrick

  11. Hi, I’ve corresponded with you before about overheating flats and just wondered if there were any new developments that might help add active cooling to MVHR units? I know there was one design before, but you’d commented that it wasn’t suitable in size for a small flat. I wondered even about ordinary split ducted air conditioning with an outside unit, but perhaps concealed in the ceiling – if there is enough space for the MVHR ducts, then perhaps there would also be space for a concealed celing unit, though I have no way of investigating what celing space there is. And it seems a shame that if there is already ducting and vents in the ceiling for the MVHR, that it can’t somehow be retrofitted to add cooling or air con – the vents are in the main room and bedroom, which is exactly where I’d want the air con.
    I have tried using parasols to block some of the heat from the floor-to-ceiling windows but to no avail, perhaps because they don’t cover every inch of glass! Even now that the temp has dropped to 22 or 23 outdoors, and cooler at night, it’s still 27 or 28 indoors, and obviously much worse during the heatwaves. There is little cross ventilation, and safety reasons for not opening windows anyway, so I keep hoping and checking in case there have been new developments in ways to add active cooling to the installed units (which might be more acceptable by the housing association/freeholder than making holes in the walls or attaching anything like blinds to the outside walls). thanks for all your advice and help for suffering flat-owners!

    • Dear Al,

      In terms of solutions I’ve still not seen any small MVHR heat pumps come into the market that can be retrofitted – the issue with it would be that the smaller they are, the lower the cooling output – to the point it wouldn’t make any impact against the sun hitting the home all day.

      Most air con units are typically external units with insulated pipes carrying cold liquid to internal units in rooms. Could you fit a window air con unit? They’re a fairly safe technology and have been around for ages. If you’ve been recording temperatures over the summer the housing association/freeholder may have a more progressive attitude now given the more extreme weather we’ve been having.

      Hope this helps, do keep in touch.

      Best wishes,

      Patrick

      • Thanks for confirming what I suspected was the case. It is a shame that there isn’t more available to add some active cooling to MVHR that are already installed, as it sounds like that would help a lot of flat-owners who were trying to to have to go to full-blown air con. We have full length glass windows and door on two sides of the corner flat, with only one awning style opening window (and the glass door), so a through the window air con doesn’t really work. We do have one of the units with the hose out the window, but it’s inconvenient and noisy, as well as not very energy efficient. It’s possible that we would be able to install split air con, but we don’t know if the housing association would allow holes through the wall yet, and there isn’t much wall space for the indoor unit either, so ceiling mounts would be better. It just seems a shame where there is already ventilation and ducting and ceiling vents in the right place, that the ideas can’t seem to be combined somehow. I suppose regulation and improvements in design will make it so that air con and active cooling isn’t likelyi to be as needed in future development, so probably less of a market for retrofitted solutions for the currently overheating properties. But I will keep hoping

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